On Mountain High: Mountain West, C-USA form college football’s first faction, second association


It is the biggest news since the Mountain West Conference was founded back in 1999. The Mountain West and Conference USA are forming the first College Football Faction – sorry, “association.” Not only will the pending partnership change the fate of all 22 schools involved, it could also change the course of college football alltogether.

I’ll be honest, as much as I liked the Mountain West’s decision to bring in Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii, I knew it wasn’t a big enough move to garner BCS automatic-qualifier status. After losing its top three programs – BYU, Utah and TCU – in a span of two years, the Mountain West had to make a bold move to salvage the future of the conference.

And boy did they make a big move; quite possibly the biggest development in Division I-FBS since the BCS was created following the 1997 season.

Late Friday afternoon, the Big East announced its decision to invite Mountain West members Air Force and Boise State as football-only members and SMU, Central Florida, and Houston as full members. You’d think that was the big football news heading in to the weekend. Alas, the Mountain West and Conference USA, not to be outdone, announced even bigger news – they were consolidating their football members, 10 from the MWC and 12 from C-USA, into one large association.

It looks like the NCAA is no longer the only multi-conference “association” in the college-football realm. Although each conference will remain separate during the regular season, the conference champions will play an association championship at the end of the season.

My question is, what the hell does this mean for the future of college football? A couple months ago, it looked like 16-team super-conferences were going to become the norm. Now, I’m wondering if multi-conference associations, within the multi-conference National College Athletic Association mind you, is what college football fans can expect down the road.

Wait a minute, I may be wrong but hasn’t all this happened before? I am almost positive that conference champions playing each other at the end of the season to crown an ultimate champion is not an original idea. Where have I seen that before? Oh yea, that’s right BOWL GAMES.

Let’s take the Granddaddy of Them All, the Rose Bowl. First played in 1902, the Rose Bowl was originally titled the “Tournament East-West football game.” It pitted a team from the East against a team from the West. Eventually, NCAA institutions formed conferences based on region and proximity to one another. Since 1947, what are now the Big Ten and Pac-12 have been sending their conference champions to play each other in the Rose Bowl.

As the bowl system expanded, conferences signed agreements with various bowl games to guarantee an invitation to a slotted conference team. Currently, the Mountain West champion plays in the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas (assuming the team isn’t ranked inside the BCS top-12) against the fifth-place team in the Pac-12. Okay, that is a little absurd. The only bowl game willing to automatically invite the Mountain West champ is the Las Vegas Bowl? And the opponent is the only the fifth place team in the Pac-12?

At least the Mountain-USA Association Championship Bowl Game- that’s what I’m going to start calling it, I “guarantee” it catches on – is a step up.

Other than trying to force the BCS to recognize the Mountain West and/or Conference-USA as a BCS automatic-qualifying conference, I’m not sure I see the difference between having an association championship and having an end-of-season bowl game.

Eventually, the BCS is going to have a tough decision on whether to adjust the five automatic-qualifying conference, add a sixth conference or simply retool the whole system. I’m going to make a bold prediction, one nobody will remember or pay attention long enough truly find out if it occurs. 20 years from now, the BCS will no longer exist. I can’t say whether there will be a playoff in place to crown a champion, but I have a feeling the conference realignment isn’t going to quit.

There’s a saying the history repeats itself. Non-BCS teams are jumping at the opportunity to switch conferences so they can make better bowl games and make more money. Now, we’re even seeing entire conferences essentially say “screw realignment” let’s just combine. Isn’t that what the NCAA is all about though? Multiple conferences competing individually and then eventually crowning a champion at the end of the year? What happens if the Big East cannot persuade teams to join its conference? Is it just going to join forces with, say, the Mid-American Conference?

Let’s see what some people directly involved had to say regarding the Mountain West/C-USA merger:

“Cooperative actions like this … will reward fans by creating regional rivalries.” – East Carolina Athletics Director Terry Holland.

Of course this is going to create regional rivalries, that’s the point of being a member of a conference – to play teams within your region year-after-year. When the Pac-8 expanded to Arizona in the 1970s, it took a while for fans to be receptive to the Arizona schools. I imagine all the teams leaving conferences for the allure of more money are going to quickly realize the games no longer hold as much weight as they used to. You think Texas A&M against Florida is going to be as big as Texas A&M versus Texas? I don’t think so.

“Rather than await changes in membership due to realignment, it became clear the best way to serve our institutions was to pursue an original concept. The Mountain West and C-USA share a number of similarities, and the creative merger of our football assets firmly positions our respective members for the future.” – Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson.

Quick clarification Commissioner Thompson, the creative merger may firmly position the respective members for the future. What happens, though, if the BCS chooses not to recognize the Mountain USA, or whatever it’s going to be called, as an automatic-qualifying conference?

“[The merge] will create endless new opportunities for the two groups and stretch the interest in our programs across five time zones. It is a win-win for both leagues and allows our student-athletes the opportunity to be able to compete on the highest level of college football.” – Southern Miss Athletics Director Richard Giannini.

I’m going to assume that by “compete on the highest level” Giannini is assuming this guarantees a BCS auto berth. If it does not and the Mountain West and Conference USA are just non-BCS conferences joining forces, I’m not sure all the teams involved qualify as the highest level of college football. The only way this merger pays real dividends is if the BCS grants the association champion an automatic berth into a BCS game.

For a while, I thought the dust was starting to settle on all this realignment talk. But as Lee Corso would say – not so fast my friend. I can’t wait to find out what happens next.


Obviously if you are reading this right now, you know that it wasn’t posted Friday afternoon as usual and therefore the column does not feature my picks. Frankly, maybe I needed a week off from picks because I clearly haven’t been doing well. Instead, let’s give a quick recap of the past weekend’s Mountain West matchups.

San Diego State 41, Air Force 27
This was a must-win game for both teams, but unfortunately for Air Force only one team could get the win. San Diego State, facing its third triple-option opponent of the year, had its hands full traveling to Colorado Springs for a night-game on a short week. After two sub-par performances in a row from Ryan Lindley and Ronnie Hilman, the Aztecs needed those two to step it up if they hope to finish third in the Mountain West and at least make the Poinsettia Bowl once again. Hillman finally broke loose, rushing for 172 yards on 27 carries. He scored two huge touchdowns in the fourth quarter on runs of 22 and 57 yards. Lindley didn’t necessarily have his best game of the season, but he still surpassed the 200-yard mark passing and only threw six incompletions, 15-of-21 with no interceptions.

Boise State 63, Colorado State 13
In its first-ever Mountain West conference game, Boise State showed the rest of the conference what a top-10 team looks like. The Broncos put up their highest point-total of the season and now in the past two weeks, last week against future conference foe Fresno State, Boise State has scored 120 points – the offense is clearly firing on all cylindars. Doug Martin rushed for 200 yards on 20 carries and scored three touchdowns. Kellen Moore threw only four incomplete passes the whole game while racking up 338 yards passing and four touchdowns. Even though the Broncos lost their top two receivers from a year ago, Tyler Shoemaker continues to put up big numbers. He hauled in nine catches for 180 yards and two scores. Only two teams stand a chance at even challenging the Boise State the rest of the way, TCU on November 12 and San Diego State November 19.

Nevada 49, New Mexico 7
If afraid to say it, George Barlow, but you better cherish the last few games of the season because it doesn’t look like your interim tag is going to be replace with a full-time tag at the end of the season. Dismal performance after dismal performance should open the eyes of the athletic department to the realization that this team is in need of a complete over-haul. Nevada racked up 598 yards of total offense – 338 rushing and 260 passing. With the exception of the 14-10 opening loss of the season to Colorado State, the Lobos have allowed point totals of 52, 59, 48, 42 and 47 points while scoring 3, 13, 45, 28 and 7. While all eyes will be on the Boise State-TCU game November 12, I’ll be tuning in to the New Mexico-UNLV game that same weekend. We’re either in for a shoot-out or a scoreless tie.

Wyoming 41, UNLV 14
I’m not sure what to say about this game, heck the Associated Press didn’t even know what to say about it – there was no AP recap written. Wyoming has been a somewhat disappointing team so far this year. After starting the season 3-0, they had an outside shot at upsetting Nebraska at home. Only problem is that Wyoming didn’t play like they wanted the upset, committing stupid penalties and getting in their own way much of the game. Last week, they got off to a great start against Utah State on the road by jumping out to a quick 12-0 lead (remember, Utah State was favored by 12). The Cowboys then allowed Utah State to outscore them 63-7 the rest of the way. Although Wyoming has four victories already, one more than last year, they must still win three of their next six games to get bowl eligible as their first two opponents, Weber State and Texas State, are FCS teams. With San Diego State, TCU, Air Force and Boise State on the schedule in the next five weeks, I don’t see that happening.